Hays versus Biggar, Round 2

There is a second exchange of articles between Richard Hays and Nigel Biggar in the latest Studies in Christian Ethics.

The first exchange was in last year - Studies in Christian Ethics 22.2 (May 2009):

Nigel Biggar, 'Specify and Distinguish! Interpreting the New Testament on `Non-Violence' '

Richard B. Hays, 'Narrate and Embody: A Response To Nigel Biggar, `Specify and Distinguish''

The second exchange - Studies in Christian Ethics 23.1 (February 2010):

Nigel Biggar, 'The New Testament and Violence: Round Two'

Richard B. Hays, 'The Thorny Task of Reconciliation: Another Response to Nigel Biggar'

While Hays, I think won the first round, by a fair margin, Biggar lands some critical 'punches' in the second round, although I think Hays still comes out ahead. Hays is just better exegetically. Biggar (a just war proponent) is unconvinced by Hays' non-violent reading of Jesus' narrative. He concludes

I persist in thinking that just war doctrine can do better justice than pacifism to all the relevant material in the New Testament. It strongly affirms that followers of Jesus are forbidden to be vengeful and hateful; that they are called to intend peace, to have compassion, and to forebear; and that in some circumstances—either where they are not authorised to bear the public sword, or where to exercise that authority would be disproportionate and indiscriminate—they are called to leave themselves vulnerable to injury. In addition, it can explain why soldiers in the New Testament are never criticised for
being soldiers (23.1, p.80).

But as Hays notes 'the New Testament never narrates an act of sword-wielding heroism by a Christian' (23.1, p.82).  Hays concludes

I do not mean to trivialise the moral seriousness of your advocacy for just war. I just think that you have made bad exegetical arguments: you have dragooned the New Testament texts into the service of a cause antithetical to their own testimony (23.1, p.86).


Engaging with Burridge's Imitiating Jesus

I spent the afternoon at Keble college listening to four responses (Marcus Bockmuehl, Bernd Wannenwetsch, Chris Rowland and Nigel Biggar) in the presence of Richard Burridge to his 2007 book Imitating Jesus: An Inclusive Approach to New Testament Ethics. The book is driven, as Burridge acknowledged, by conflicts within the current anglican communion and pushes for an inclusive ethic, which wants to include all in the community of interpreting scripture - that is, it's arguing for a position where people actively listen to one another rather than staying entrenched positions, the elephants in room (his phrase) being women bishops and homosexuality.  The book is also an extended engagement with the other Richard, Hays, and his book The Moral Vision of the New Testament (1996).  Where perhaps Hays prioritizes Paul in his construction of New Testament ethics (his three focal images are very Pauline - cross, community and new creation), Burridge prioritizes the gospels and Jesus of Nazareth (his emphasis on love shaped by Jesus as the friend of sinners). In both cases I think it emerges that the titles of their books are misleading - so it should be the Moral vision of the pauline letters and Imitiating Jesus: an inclusive approach to gospel ethics.

Both Bockmuehl and Wannenwetsch wanted Burridge to define 'inclusive'. They were concerned he uses it with a clear critical definition, a thicker definition is needed. This is pertinent to Baptists in the UK who hold to the BU's Five Core Values, which include being an 'inclusive' community.  The danger, see Bockmuehl and Wannenwetsch, of Burridge's emphasis on inclusivity is we end up with a "PC" Jesus or one who fits or reflects very neatly the politics of New Labour.

I am wondering when we study the New Testament witness whether we end up with two ethics - a Pauline ethic which is inclusive, but with strict boundaries (a bounded set) and a Gospel ethics or Jesus ethics which is inclusive without the strict boundaries (a centred set)?  Burridge's description of the inclusive ethic he was putting forward sounded very much like that of centred set, where what matters is the direction you're moving in, towards Jesus, and not whether you've cross a boundary.

Tomorrow I'll be at Spurgeon's for a one-day conference with Richard Bauckham.


Listening to Sam Wells at King's

Spent the day in London at a 1-day conference at King's. The highlight was listening to Sam Wells. Wells is one of my favourite theologians are I discovered his book Improvisation. This has been followed by God's Companions, Power and Passion and Speaking the Truth. I've blogged about Well's work here, here and here.

Bookmark_image1 Wells was giving a lecture on liturgy as life, which was about demonstrating how worship shapes christians to be faithful disciples. It was in many ways a summary of the chapters of God's Companions. He said to me afterwards that the lecture is being planned as a book (which will be cheaper than God's Companions) and for a wide audience.

One of the things I'm looking forward to when in local church ministry is having the opportunity to make explicit worship as a means of christian formation - spiritually, politically, economically, etc. If you've not read any of Sam's books - I could not recommend them more highly. They are extremely readable, challenging and full of examples of how this might look in a local setting.

Part of the day also saw the launch of new book by Sam and Ben Quash called Introducing Christian Ethics. 1405152761 This looks like it will fast become a widely used text book (it will be joined in april by accompanying reader). Having a quick read on the train home, this is simply a brilliant introduction to the history and content of christian ethics. It both introduces the major figures - augustine, aquinas, luther, calvin, kant,  barth, hauerwas, o'donovan, milbank, yoder, macintyre, etc. and the way they approach ethical questions either as they looking for a universal ethic (ethics for everyone), a subversive ethic (ethics for the oppressed or marginalized) or an ecclesial (ethics for the church).

If you have any interest in Christian ethics or just want to know how different Christians have apporached war, medical ethics, sex and marriage, the environment - this is an excellent place to start. Having never being taught Christian ethics (instead I discovered Hauerwas via John Colwell's Living the Christian Story, and then went on to find Wells and others).  This will helpfully fill in all the gaps.


ten ways to resist empire

Tomorrow I'm preaching on Revelation 17-19. My main theme is unveiling and resisting empire and so as a practical resource I thought I'd give the church some ideas of resisting empire.

1. join the campaign not to renew Trident - the replacement of Trident is the empire mentality that trusts in military strength to keep Britain safe and secure; nuclear weapons are anti-gospel, they go against Jesus command to love your enemies and the exhortation that blessed are the peacemakers

2. don't let your charity become commodified - more and more recently charity has been linked to entertainment and consumerism. 10p of this call goes to charity; buy this 'thing' and we'll give £1 to this charity. charity is about giving voluntary to those in need, it shouldn't be about us getting some in return. see kester's reflection here and here

3. reconsider where you buy and your food - what food can you grow in your garden? what food can you buy fairtrade? what food can you get locally? what would happen if as many people in the church as possible grew food and we shared it with each other? many global food and clothing companies are destroying the world's resources and enslaving the poor. find out where your food is made and by who. boycott the worst offenders.

4. become less addicted to our cars. Most of us are slaves to our cars - what have forms of transport can we use? what would happen if as many people in the church as possible shared lifts on sundays and in the week?

5. orientate our lives around being a community of God - around praying together, reading scripture together, visiting one another, being hospitable to one another, worshipping together, being truthful to one another listening to one another - what would happen if we made time to be together as a church family? how could we celebrate sabbath as a time of rest and worship?

6. become globally aware - too often we're ignorant of what is happening around the world and how our lives, our governments and multinational companies are affecting the lives of others around the world - what would happen if everyone in the church - young and old - chose a country to pray for and learn about? what would then happen if we made time to share stories from around the world to inform our intercessory prayer and our day to day choices?

7. reading scripture together - what would happen if we read Jesus' sermon on the mount so regularly it become written on our hearts and minds? we need to school and train ourselves in christian politics - that is a vision shaped by compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, love and peace

8. affirming self-image - one of the biggest lies a empire mentality tells us is that we are not beautiful, that we are not the right bodyshape, we don't have the right clothes - what would happen if we removed the magazine and tv adverts that lie to us from our lives? what would happen if we discovered ways to affirm and celebrate the way we look? what passages from scripture or  moments in our communal worship help affirm one another?

9. disconnect your television - how does the empire mentality sell us its myths? the answer is namely television. why don't you disconnect it every once a while? what would happen if we were more selective in what we watched (i.e. cut out the rubbish)? what would it mean to turn the TV while we eat? what would it mean to only have one TV?

10. become ethical bankers - how about switching accounts to more ethical bankers? how about checking where your money is being invested? if you have a credit card, switch it to a tearfund or christian aid one.


A question from Stanley Hauerwas

Taken from an interview here

[Dean Jones asks:] Bill has asked you  a lot of questions, others have asked you several questions. What    question would you like those of us gathered here to be thinking about as we depart from here?             

What do I need, or what do we need, to be a community of friends that can not only tell one another the truth, but want to be told the truth?


Christian Ethics According to Hauerwas and Wells

140515051302lzzzzzzzThe Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics is a book that deserves to be read and then re-read. Edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Sam Wells (two of my favourite theologians) it describes a way of studying ethics through worship. The opening chapter begins 'the aim of this volume is to stretch, inspire, and develop the readers' conception of Christian worship in order to challenge, enrich, and transform the reader's notions of the form and content of Chrisitan ethics.'   That is the way in which  we worship shapes and grounds the way we act as the body of Christ in the world. This is a theme that both Hauerwas and Wells have touched on before, but here in this companion it is described in full. They have collected together a wide range of contributers from Kevin Vanhoozer and William T. Cavanaugh to Stephen Fowl, T. J. Gorringe and Rowan Williams. I'm currently borrowing it from All Nations College Library, but hope to acquire it at some point.

Sam Wells has a new book out soon called God's Companions: Reimagining Christian Ethics, which if the synopsis is anything to go by, looks good.

Grounded in Samuel Wells' experience of ordinary lives in poorer neighborhoods, this book presents a striking and imaginative approach to Christian ethics. It argues that Christian ethics is founded on God, on the practices of human community, and on worship, and that ethics is fundamentally a reflection of God's abundance. Wells synthesizes dogmatic, liturgical, ethical, scriptural, and pastoral approaches to theology in order to make a bold claim for the centrality of the local church in theological reflection. He considers the abundance of gifts God gives through the practices of the Church, particularly the Eucharist. His central thesis, which governs his argument throughout, is that God gives his people everything they need to worship him, be his friends, and eat with him. Wells engages with serious scholarly material, yet sets out the issues lucidly for a student audience.